Saturday, April 19, 2014
Based on the DC Comics by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman Returns is the sequel to the 1989 film in which Batman faces a new foe in the Penguin who teams up with a business tycoon to take down the Batman while a mysterious vigilante in Catwoman also creates trouble. Directed by Tim Burton with a screenplay by Sam Hamm and Daniel Waters from a story by Hamm, the film is a darker story than its predecessor as Bruce Wayne/Batman deals with his new foes as Michael Keaton reprises his role with Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and Danny Devito as Oswald Cobblepot/the Penguin. Also starring Pat Hingle, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, and Christopher Walken as Max Shreck. Batman Returns is a superbly thrilling film from Tim Burton.
The film is an exploration into Bruce Wayne adjusting to his role as Gotham’s peacekeeper as new enemies emerge during the Christmas holidays to wreak havoc on the city. Among them is a deformed man known as the Penguin who wants to take over Gotham where he kidnaps the industrialist Max Shreck as the two team up to control Gotham. Adding to the chaos is a woman named Selina Kyle who was a secretary of Shreck as she was pushed out of a window and fell many stories to the ground. Kyle would survive the fall as she becomes Catwoman as she becomes a vigilante of her own as she causes problems for Batman where she briefly aligns with the Penguin. Yet, Kyle’s life is more complicated when she falls for Bruce Wayne unaware that he’s Batman and vice versa as it would lead to a very troubling climax.
The film’s screenplay by Sam Hamm and Daniel Waters, with additional work by Wesley Strick, doesn’t just explore Bruce Wayne being this hero for Gotham but also encounter these new forces. The real villain in the film is Max Shreck as he is this industrialist that wants to create a new power-plant for Gotham when the city doesn’t need it. When Kyle accidentally learns what Shreck is doing, Shreck tries to kill her as he would use the Penguin to usurp Gotham’s mayor (Michael Murphy) to become the new mayor so Shreck can build his power plant. Though Penguin had his own plans to create chaos in Gotham, he teams up with Shreck for power while trying to discredit Batman with the help of Catwoman. One of the aspects of the script that is unique is the fact that it’s a film about identity as it relates to Batman, Penguin, and Catwoman.
Whereas Bruce Wayne tries to cope with his dual role as he is also seeking some balance as a man where he wouldn’t need to keep secrets. Though he accepts his role as Gotham’s hero, it’s not one that he easily accepts as he has few allies in the city. The Penguin maybe an antagonist but not a conventional one as the film begins with his birth as he arrives as a deformed baby his rich parents would dump into a sewer just days after his birth. In being this outcast, he wants to destroy Gotham only to become a pawn in Shreck’s plans that forces him to become more determined for Gotham’s end. Then there’s Selina Kyle who starts out as this timid secretary who lives with a cat as her near-death experience in the hands of Shreck has her becoming this unstable woman that not only wants to get revenge on Shreck but her encounter with Batman would create a very complicated relationship as their real-life personas are in love with each other while there’s a strange attraction between the two in their other personas. Catwoman isn’t a villain nor a hero but a true anti-hero who is only in it for herself.
Tim Burton’s direction is definitely more extravagant in some respects but also very offbeat in its mix of dark humor, action, and suspense. Yet, there’s a looseness to the story where Burton is able to make all of these elements fuse together though not all of these moments work. Still, he is able to create some exotic scenes and action sequences that are very exciting as it includes a very memorable moment where Catwoman introduces herself to Batman and the Penguin. The use of close-ups, wide shots, and medium shots gives Burton some room to breathe in the way he creates some of these moments while being able to explore the complexity of identity in the film in shots that are much more simpler. Especially in the romantic attraction between Wayne/Batman and Kyle/Catwoman as there’s an element of sensuality in that attraction.
The direction is also stylish in the way some of the action scenes and in some of the humor that is presented though a lot of its very dark. Especially in the film’s climax as it involves Batman, the Penguin, Catwoman, and Shreck as it features extravagant set pieces as well as a lot of penguins where some of it is real and some are robotic. The usage of animals do add some style to the film where they would aid whoever is needed as its climax is both enthralling but also somber where it would play into Batman/Wayne’s struggle to find a balance in his dual role. Overall, Burton crafts a very exciting and stylish film about Batman coming to terms with his identity and the new foes he faces.
Cinematographer Stefan Czapsky does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the look of the exteriors of Gotham as well some of the lighting in the sewer home of the Penguin and his army as well as the shadows in the Batcave. Editors Chris Lebenzon and Bob Badami do nice work with the editing as it‘s pretty straightforward with some stylish cutting for some of the film‘s action scenes as well as some of its humorous moments. Production designer Bo Welch with set decorator Cheryl Carasik and supervising art director Tom Duffield, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the city square in Gotham to the Batcave as well as the Penguin‘s lair, and the apartment Kyle lived in. Costume designers Bob Ringwood and Mary E. Vogt do fantastic work with the look of Catwoman‘s costumes as well as the clothes of the Penguin and the suits that Max Shreck wears.
Makeup designers Stan Winston, Ve Neill, and Ronnie Specter do brilliant work with the makeup design of the Penguin as well the look of his band of freaks that he leads. Visual effects supervisor Michael L. Fink does terrific work with some of the visual effects that includes some early ideas of CGI as well as the use of miniatures in some of the action sequences. Sound editors Richard L. Anderson and David E. Stone do superb work with the sound to create some layering of sounds in the action scenes as well as some of the scenes set in Gotham. The film’s music by Danny Elfman is incredible for its mixture of bombastic orchestral pieces to some more serene and enchanting pieces to play into some of the melancholia as the film’s soundtrack also includes a few Christmas pieces and a collaboration with Siouxsie & the Banshees for the song Face to Face.
The casting by Marion Dougherty is great for the ensemble that is created as it features cameo appearances from Jan Hooks as a PR assistant, Vincent Schiavelli as one of the Penguin’s henchmen, Anna Katarina as the poodle lady who works for the Penguin, and in the role of Penguin’s parents, Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger who had appeared in Burton’s first film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Other notable small roles include Andrew Bryniarski as Shreck’s son Chip, Cristi Conaway as the Ice Princess who lights Gotham’s Xmas tree, and Michael Murphy as the city’s mayor. Reprising their roles from the first film, Pat Hingle and Michael Gough are terrific in their respective roles as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth where Gordon becomes one of the few men who trusts Batman while Pennyworth helps Batman/Wayne in uncovering some of the mysteries relating to the Penguin.
Christopher Walken is brilliant as the very manipulative and power-hungry Max Shreck as Walken has this charm that makes him a very unique villain that doesn’t have any personas but is willing to use people for his own means. Danny DeVito is fantastic as the Penguin as a man who learns about his family as he becomes manipulated into becoming a politician only to realize that he is who he is as he wants to destroy Gotham and its hero Batman. Michelle Pfeiffer is phenomenal as Selina Kyle/Catwoman as this woman who despises Shreck for his plans and later trying to kill her as she becomes this very unstable woman that wants to create chaos as she also falls for Wayne/Batman. Finally, there’s Michael Keaton in a superb performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman as Keaton displays more aggression in his role as Batman while still being a bit brooding as he showcases Wayne’s struggle to balance his dual roles as he also has some great chemistry with Pfeiffer in their different personas.
Batman Returns is an excellent film from Tim Burton that manages to be a worthy sequel to its 1989 predecessor. Armed with an amazing cast as well as dazzling set pieces and Danny Elfman’s sumptuous score that includes a song by Siouxsie & the Banshees. While it is a darker film than its predecessor, it is still an engaging one for the way it explores identities and one man’s desire to balance his role as a man and crime fighter. In the end, Batman Returns is a marvelous film from Tim Burton.
Tim Burton Films: (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) - Beetlejuice - Batman - (Edward Scissorhands) - Ed Wood - (Mars Attacks!) - (Sleepy Hollow) - (Planet of the Apes (2001 film)) - (Big Fish) - (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) - (Corpse Bride) - (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) - (Alice in Wonderland (2010 film)) - (Dark Shadows) - (Frankenweenie) - (Big Eyes)
Batman Films: (Batman (1966 film)) - Batman Forever - Batman & Robin - Batman Begins - The Dark Knight - The Dark Knight Rises - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - The Lego Batman Movie - The Batman (2022 film)
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